Boston school department stands by teacher evaluation process

Martin Desmarais | 1/9/2014, 6 a.m.

Prior to the launch of Boston Public School’s new evaluation system last school year, the city had strong support across the board, but now the Boston Teachers Union is crying foul. The union is demanding in a grievance that BPS rehire 30 teachers who were removed for poor performance and it has stated claims that the evaluation system is discriminatory.

According to Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, the union’s examination of the evaluation data finds that a black teacher is five times more likely to be targeted for dismissal, a male teacher is three times more likely to be targeted for dismal and a teacher over the age of 50 is 12 times more likely to be targeted for dismissal.

“We found rampant discrimination by gender by age by race,” Stutman said. “We don’t believe it is random. We don’t believe it is an exception.

“We don’t think you can remotely say that a system is fair if certain races are targeted at five times the rate,” he added. “There is no such thing as a little bit of discrimination.”

Stutman’s assertions aside, the evaluation system has not produced a large percentage of firings.

Last school year the new evaluation system looked at over 5,000 educators and teachers. Of those, 1.2 percent of educators — or 48 individuals — were deemed “unsatisfactory.” BPS conducted training with these individuals to try and help them improve — and 31 were deemed to have not done so and were removed, according to data released by BPS.

In November, BPS released a report that revealed that in the prior years’ evaluation data educators over age 50, male teachers and African-American educators were more likely to receive a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” evaluation.

This sent the union into action and led to the filing of a grievance demanding that the city rehire the removed teachers and also suspend the performance evaluations.

“We think the evaluation system is flawed,” Stutman said. “If the evaluation system is helpful and fair these numbers shouldn’t be surfacing.”

Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent John McDonough has come out very strongly in support of the evaluation system and against the union’s demands.

“No one who was removed for poor performance last year should be placed in front of students again, but this is precisely what the union leadership has asked us to do,” McDonough said in a statement. “Performance evaluations are valuable tools to improve the quality of teaching for every child. We need to invest in great teaching — and that means working hard to identify areas of underperformance so we can address them.

“We must not turn back simply because there are patterns we do not like to see in the evaluation data,” McDonough added. “Educator evaluations and the professional support that comes with them help our teachers tackle the other urgent patterns we see all too often: that students living in poverty are less likely to succeed, or the fact that the vast majority of students with disabilities still struggle to graduate.